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Lane Tech Defends Its Early Lunch Hour — And Other CPS Kids Eating Lunch As Early As 9:15 Some Days

An increase in students at other Chicago high schools, like William Howard Taft High School, have led to lunch periods that begin before 10 a.m.

Lane Tech High School officials said a new early lunch period is in response to an influx of new students.
Image courtesy of CPS
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NORTH CENTER — Lunch at 9:50 a.m.?

We had to do it, Lane Tech High School officials told parents critical of the new time, because an influx of new students were too much for the school’s cafeteria to handle.

A new lunch period also opens up more flexibility for electives, the school said.

And what’s more, Lane’s not the only Chicago school sending some kids to lunch before 10 a.m., the school noted to parents.

On Friday, Block Club reported Lane Tech administrators are adding a new lunch period that begins at 9:50 a.m. for the upcoming school year. Parents and students were unhappy with how early the new lunch was starting, saying the school should really call it a new breakfast period instead.

Lane Tech and Chicago Public Schools did not respond to questions about why the new lunch period was added. But students and parents at the school suspected it was because administrators had accepted an unprecedented number of freshmen for this academic year.

RELATED: Lane Tech’s New 9:50 A.M. Lunch Period Is Basically Breakfast, Students And Parents Complain

On Saturday afternoon, Lane Tech administrators sent an email to parents to address the addition of the new morning lunch period, which they said is an attempt to address “a growing issue for the last few years.”

“There are two main reasons we are adding the lunch periods: 1) Our class sizes have increased over the last few years, and we need more seats available in the cafeteria (current numbers are 12th grade = 1,126, 10th grade = 1,152, and 9th grade = 1,159); we want to ensure that students have a place to eat in our student lunchroom; 2) it allows for more flexibility in our programming of classes,” the email said.

Lane is a selective-enrollment high school that allows its upperclassmen to eat lunch off campus.

The message to parents also said Lane administrators had received complaints from students over the years because the school was limited in how it could schedule elective courses in relation to the previously established lunch periods. By adding a new lunch period at 9:50 a.m. the school hopes students will have more access to the classes they wanted to take.

“While we know this is new to our students, this is not new to Lane as several years ago Lane had a similar schedule. We encourage students to bring snacks to eat between classes if they have a need. We thank our students for being flexible with this new schedule, as it is truly designed to meet their needs,” the email said.

The email from Lane Tech administrators also said while they were researching their decision to add the 9:50 a.m. lunch they saw other CPS schools offer lunch periods at similar times.

But parents weren’t satisfied with Lane Tech’s justification of the new early lunch hour. 

“Just because there is precedent and other schools have similar schedules does not mean it is a good idea. There is a precedent for all sorts of bad initiatives for education — it doesn’t mean they should be continued,” said Micki LeSueur, a parent of a Lane Tech student assigned to third period lunch.

“As for increased class size, Lane is a selective-enrollment school and they determine the number of students they accept,” LeSueur said. “They need to ensure they can adequately accommodate the students they accept into the school.”

Other CPS Schools Have Early Lunch

CPS did not respond to a question about how many high schools in the district have lunch before 10 a.m.

report published last December by CPS to promote excellence in school nutrition said that the district has more than 380,000 students that need to be fed every single day.

“Over the course of the year, we will serve 43 million lunches and 27 million breakfasts totaling 70 million meals to these students. By the time a student graduates, they will have consumed about 4,000 school meals,” the report said. “That is why it is so important to ensure all meals are nutritious. Studies have consistently shown a powerful connection between health and academic achievement. Healthy, active and well-nourished students are more likely to attend school, be engaged, and be ready to learn.”

The district also adopted a new CPS local school wellness policy in June 2017. The policy says lunch should be served between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in accordance with annual scheduling guidance issued by the Department of Teaching and Learning.

Mariam Prater, an incoming senior at Westinghouse College Prep High School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd. in East Garfield Park, says her school’s earliest lunch period begins around 9:50 a.m. as well. Westinghouse has 1,238 students currently enrolled and, like Lane, is a selective-enrollment high school.

“We’re a relatively small school compared to Lane,” Prater said. “But we have four lunch periods and then they’re spread out through four periods.”

Unlike Lane, Westinghouse doesn’t have an open campus. And while she personally hasn’t been assigned the 9:50 a.m. lunch she has friends who have. She sees them bring extra food to school because once their lunch is over they have to wait for about five more classes before the day is over and they can eat a full meal again.

“So they’re going to bring extra food because they can’t survive just on that third period lunch,” Prater said. Some teachers at Westinghouse are okay with students eating a snack in class, but it really depends on the type of class and teacher, she says.

“I know one of my teachers, his policy was really, really good. You could only have healthy food in his class,” she said. “But it also depends on which room you’re in. So if you’re in the chemistry room or any of the science rooms, there’s no food at all in there. But like a language class will have a more lenient policy.”

Mario Ocampo is another incoming senior at Westinghouse. During his freshman and sophomore year he was assigned the 9:50 a.m. lunch period at the school.

“I wasn’t really that used to that. At first it was fine, but after a while during my freshman year I would get really hungry,” Ocampo said. “By the end of the day, like an hour or hour and half before school lets out, I would get really hungry.”

During his freshman and sophomore year he also played volleyball and says that activity would add to his hunger.

“That’s when I started getting hungrier and I’d have to pack a lunch before a game or practice because I wasn’t able to perform as well as I could if I was hungry,” he said.

Ocampo has had every lunch period at Westinghouse except the last one. In his experience the earlier lunch periods tend to be less crowded than ones towards the end of the day.

“Like the very last lunch period that happens in the afternoon,” Ocampo said. “Some kids had to sit outside of the lunch room for that one.”

Ocampo has adjusted to the different lunches he’s been assigned over the years by packing snacks and says that while he wasn’t really hungry when he had the 9:50 a.m. lunch, he would rather eat earlier than very late in the day.

“Because at that point you’re going to go home and eat dinner anyways,” he said.

Another student who reached out to Block Club, Adelina Avalos, attends Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, 211 S. Laflin St. The selective-enrollment school has a population of 2,224 students, according to CPS.

“My lunch period starts at 9:50 a.m. It’s not the worst thing in the world but I would like it later,” Avalos said. “It’s been in existence since I started going in 2016, this is my second time getting that [lunch] period.”

William Howard Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., has three lunch periods. The earliest one begins around 9:38 a.m. during regular school days. On days teacher meetings are scheduled, the early lunch period begins at 9:15 a.m.

“We’re a neighborhood high school and our population has grown since I’ve gotten here,” said Alma Vera, a teacher at Taft and a 1989 Lane graduate. “Cafeterias don’t grow with the student populations.”

The early lunch policy isn’t new to Taft and has been in effect for the past five or six years, Vera said. She began teaching at Taft in 2003 and saw firsthand how the school’s population has grown since then.

CPS data shows Taft currently has 3,406 students enrolled and unlike Lane, Westinghouse or Whitney Young, serves all students who live within its boundary area.

The lunch period a Taft student is assigned is dependent on the classes they need to take, so it’s kind of the luck of the draw which lunch they’ll be assigned to meet their academic goals.

And in Vera’s experience, students typically don’t get up early to eat before school or eat the breakfast offered at Taft at 7:10 a.m. So what the school calls third period lunch is more like breakfast for the students assigned to it.

“And you can tell as a teacher when the students have had lunch in the later periods because they have more energy,” she said. “The first couple periods of the day they aren’t completely awake yet because our school day does start very early.”

Vera said the school has a similar policy to Lane regarding eating in class, essentially teachers will allow water or a snack but not a full meal.

“Taft doesn’t have an open campus either, so that was another reason for an early lunch for our students. To alleviate the crowding in the lunch period,” she said. “Even if we had open lunch there aren’t a lot of places for them to go for that near the campus.”

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